A roundup of notable obituaries from the week ending Aug. 31
Paul Taylor, 88, who brought a lyrical musicality, capacity for joy and wide poetic imagination to modern dance over six decades as one of its greatest choreographers, died Wednesday in a New York City hospital. The cause was renal failure.
As a strikingly gifted dancer in his 20s, Taylor created roles for the master choreographers Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and George Balanchine. He had piercing blue eyes, the power and musculature of a skilled athlete and an incisive, outgoing — but also elusive — personality.
Stan Brock, 82, the founder of an organization that uses mobile medical clinics to bring health-care services to people in remote, underserved areas of the U.S. and around the world, died Wednesday in Tennessee. The cause was an undisclosed illness.
Brock started the first RAM clinic in the U.S. in May 1992 in Sneedville, Tennessee. Since then, more than 740,000 people have received free dental, vision and medical care from Brock’s clinics and the group’s volunteers in the Appalachia region and other areas of the U.S.
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John Asher, 62, the longtime Churchill Downs spokesman and executive known for his love of horse racing and his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport’s most famous race, the Kentucky Derby, died Monday. Asher, who was an award-winning radio journalist before becoming a widely respected fixture at the Louisville racetrack, died after having a heart attack while on vacation with his family in Florida.
Neil Simon, 91, the playwright whose name was synonymous with Broadway comedy and commercial success in the theater for decades, and who helped redefine popular American humor with an emphasis on the frictions of urban living and the agonizing conflicts of family intimacy, died last Sunday in Manhattan. The cause was complications of pneumonia. Simon was also reported to have had Alzheimer’s disease.
Simon was a meticulous joke-smith, peppering his plays, especially the early ones, with one-liners and humorous situations that critics said sometimes came at the expense of character and believability.
No matter. For much of his career, audiences embraced his work, which often focused on middle-class, urban life, many of the plots drawn from his own personal experience. His characters battled depression, alcoholism and loneliness.
Simon was the recipient of four Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, the Kennedy Center honors (1995), the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (2006) and, in 1983, he even had a Broadway theater named after him when the Alvin was rechristened the Neil Simon Theatre.
Thomas J. O’Brien, 82, the retired Roman Catholic Bishop of Phoenix diocese for more than 20 years before stepping down after a sexual-abuse scandal involving suspected pedophile priests, died last Sunday. The cause was health complications related to Parkinson’s disease.
An investigation by local prosecutors in 2002 revealed O’Brien had protected suspected pedophile priests. He was granted immunity from prosecution after signing a document admitting his part in cover-ups of alleged sexual misconduct by diocesan priests
John McCain, 81, the Arizona senator who survived 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to become one of the highest-profile, most confounding and pugnacious personalities in American politics — a one-time Republican presidential standard-bearer who alternately trampled and embraced GOP orthodoxy — died Aug. 25. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2017.
Although he spent more than three decades in Congress representing his adopted home state, McCain was hardly a stamped-from-the-mold politician. At a time when the country grew increasingly tribal and partisan, he drew admiration and antagonism from both parties.
He was described (and described himself) as a charmer, a wise guy, an underachiever, a warrior, a hero, a coward, a straight-talker, a shape-shifter and, perhaps more than any label, a maverick. He stood firmly by his beliefs, even when it contravened the wishes of his party’s leadership. He fought bitterly with right-wing elements of the GOP — over immigration, gay rights, global warming. In July 2017, he cast the decisive vote killing Republicans’ long-cherished hope of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Jeff Lowe, 67, the famed American climber who conquered peaks around the world, including an epic solo ascent of the forbidding Eiger in the Swiss Alps in 1991, died Aug. 24 at a care facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. He suffered for years from an unknown neurodegenerative disorder.
Tom Frost, 82, the rock climber and Yosemite National Park legend, died of cancer on Aug. 24, in Oakdale, California. Steve Grossman, author of the upcoming book “Tom Frost A Climbing Life,” says Frost was one of the pillars of the “golden age” of Yosemite climbing.
George Walker, 96, a composer who broke barriers during a long and distinguished career, including, in 1996, becoming the first black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, died Aug. 23 in Montclair, New Jersey. The cause was a kidney ailment.
Walker, who was also a music professor at several institutions, composed more than 90 works, and his pieces were performed by orchestras all over the United States as well as abroad. But, especially early in his career, he often felt that his race had deprived him of opportunities. Though his works sometimes carried references to African-American spiritual music and jazz, they were not his main calling card, and he was wary of tokenism in his field.
The Pulitzer was at least some vindication.
“It’s always nice to be known as the first doing anything,” Walker told USA Today upon receiving the prize, “but what’s more important is the recognition that this work has quality.”
Ted Achilles, 82, a retired businessman who helped found an innovative boarding school for girls in Kabul, Afghanistan, a potentially dangerous undertaking in a country still rife with Taliban militants violently opposed to teaching girls, died Aug. 21 at a hospice in Portland, Oregon. The cause was complications of prostate cancer.
Afghanistan’s educational system faced, and continues to face, serious challenges, including just getting children into a classroom. Achilles spent more than a decade working to improve the situation, developing student-exchange programs and boarding schools to get children, especially girls, into school.
The Rev. Robert W. Wood, 95, who in a 1960 book urged Christian clergymen to welcome gay men and women to their churches, marched in early gay-rights protests and performed same-sex marriages, died on Aug. 19 at his home in Concord, New Hampshire.
Clark’s book “Christ and the Homosexual” was a rare plea by a gay clergyman for equality at a time when local and state laws criminalized the sexual acts of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, and churchmen condemned homosexuality from their pulpits.
Sterling Stuckey, 86, an eminent black historian who challenged his white colleagues by documenting how uprooted Africans not only retained their culture while they survived slavery but eventually suffused the rest of American society with their transplanted folk ways, died Aug. 15 in Riverside, California. The cause was complications from a stroke suffered nine days earlier.
He taught history at the University of California, Riverside, from 1989 until he retired in 2004. He had recently finished the manuscript of his latest book, “The Chambers of the Soul: Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville and the Blues.”
Beginning with his breakthrough essay, “Through the Prism of Folklore: The Black Ethos in Slavery,” published in 1968 by The Massachusetts Review, Stuckey maintained that political and cultural studies of Africa must encompass people in North America and the West Indies.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard, said in an email that Stuckey had “helped us to see that the enslaved Africans who came to the New World did not sail alone: They brought their various cultures and belief systems along with them.”